A huge field of Group C cars is present for the second round of the championship at Dijon. 43 entries, and ultimately, 36 of them will start this race. There is no rain in the forecast, but there’s heat, and the heat and humidity will be a true test for the driver’s even in a sprint race. Now, we have some newcomers to the grid here at Dijon, and also, a car that is noted for it’s absence. Nissan will debut their new R89C to be driven by the British duo of Martin Donnelly and Mark Blundell. Aston Martin are also back. Remember when they suffered a huge accident at Le Mans in 1984? Well, they are back now, with a factory team with the AMR1. Courtaulds has built the chassis, and the engine has been built by Reeves Callaway, famous for his modifications to Corvette’s to turn them into supercars.
The motor is a normally aspirated 6.0 liter V8. David Leslie will share with fellow Brit and sports car racing legend, Brian Redman. Jaguar is supposed to have a new car, utilizing a turbocharged engine. However, the turbo car is absent here at Dijon and Jaguar is sticking with their proven package of the Alan Scott built V12 motor. Jean Louis Schlesser is excited to have competition from the new Jaguar, and, he points out that WSPC has more manufacturers signed up to compete than does Formula 1. Peugeot and Alfa Romeo are said to be developing cars for the new era of Group C as well.
Mercedes are still running their 1988 car, and Schlesser hopes a new one will come soon. Toyota have locked out the front row of the grid here at Dijon. It’s lights out, and away we go! Mercedes run 1-2 into the first turn, and they are followed by Toyota and Nissan while Porsche and Jaguar are slugging it out for the lower part of the top six. From the word go, Mercedes are beginning to pull out a lead over everyone else through the tree lined peaks and valleys of the Dijon circuit. Mercedes’ modus operandi is as such.
Qualify on the front row. Get a flyer at the start of the race. Whistle off into the distance, and then, control the race from the sharp end. What we will begin to see is that Mercedes are going to be in a class by themselves, and there aren’t too many teams that can step up and take the fight directly to the Silver Arrows. Ironically, this is exactly how Mercedes currently are operating in Formula 1. Toyota, Jaguar, Porsche, and Nissan, all four of them are doing their damnedest to keep up with the V8 monsters from Stuttgart. But they are finding the going to be quite tough. It looks as though, as we’ve begun racing here at Dijon, Mercedes does have a worthy adversary. It’s the fabulous Frenchman, “Brilliant” Bob Wollek, at the wheel of the Joest Racing Porsche 962 snapping at the heels of the silver streaks.
This is the revised Porsche 962 chassis Reinhold Joest, the team owner, and Bob Wollek, lead driver have been waiting for, and it’s doing the business in spades, of keeping up with the Mercedes juggernaut. Porsche’s resurgence seems to be marking a whole renewed interest in Group C as we are in the final year of the decade of the ‘80s. The FIA has told the Japanese teams they ought to commit to the series, and so, they have also come loaded for bear against the British Jaguar’s and the aforementioned Mercedes juggernaut. We now see the leaders drawing away from the rest of the field. Bob Wollek is giving both Mercedes’ a tough run for their money. Both the Baldi/Acheson #61 car and the Schlesser/Mass sister car, #62, are right in the thick of it.
These four drivers are battling it out amongst themselves as well depending on how their driver rotation works out in these races. Nissan are finding their feet with the new R89C further down the field, experiencing the common teething issues that come with a new car. So, it’ll be a long road to hoe for Julian Bailey and Mark Blundell on their first adventures in Group C competition. Jaguar is in desperate need of their previously announced new car, but the surprise here, chaps, is how the 962 Porsche is still showing it can run with the big dogs despite being a design that has been around for the better part of seven years, and it still has life in it, due to being revamped.
The 962 needs more downforce and better handling, and it should have it. The Mercedes is probably the most aerodynamic Group C bullet on the grid right now. Wollek now, is the meat in the Mercedes sandwich… the bratwurst in the Mercedes bun, shall we say. It’s pit stop time for Nissan who need a new windscreen. Wollek, meanwhile, is not content to play second fiddle to Mercedes. He is steaming towards the front like there’s no tomorrow. Now, you would think Mercedes was going to have it all their way here in France’s mustard capitol. Nope. Sorry. You’d be wrong on that, sunshine. The trouble they’d have, is due to the four black pieces of rubber that keep the car on the road… the tires.
In the heat here at Dijon, the soft compound Michelins, were breaking up. They are becoming like chewing gum. Mercedes have no choice but to slow down. Tires were the reason why they had pulled out of the 1988 Le Mans race as well, recall. The pit stops for fresh rubber gave them only temporary relief before the symptoms of the sticky, gummy tires, returns. Other teams were experiencing tire maladies, but not to the extent of Mercedes. Mauro Baldi says it all when he says that it’s difficult for them to put down the power and firmly stay on the road.
It sounds like they need a different, harder compound Michelin tire. After the pit stops were complete, the race began to settle back into a rhythm, as always. Now, with Joest Porsche #7 in the lane for a scheduled pit stop, Kenny Acheson inherits the lead briefly. But, with Frank Jelinski now at the wheel of it, old #7 is coming on strong. Once Jelinski is able to find the tail of the Mercedes, it’s really no contest, and the Porsche sweeps into the lead of this motor race. Cornering isn’t the issue for Mercedes. Instead, it is all about getting the power of the massive turbo V8 onto the tarmac without the tires breaking traction and causing the car to spin out of control.
Frank Jelinski knows Mercedes are in trouble. So, instead of outbraking his competitor, he chooses his moment, slams the throttle down, and powers past the silver car under acceleration. Jelinski has P1. But, it isn’t just Mercedes who are coming a cropper in this race. Jaguar is having their fair old litany of troubles, too. Andy Wallace retires the #2 Jaguar with a blown tire. It’s game over for him and co-driver John Nielsen, while the sister #1 Jaguar with Jan Lammers at the wheel of it, suffers electrical problems and pulls off into the sand trap. So, the Lammers/Tambay automobile is kaput for this motor race at Dijon. Game over.
Porsche #7 is in the lane for a second scheduled pit stop, and Bob Wollek gets back into the car, taking over from Frank Jelinski, to the flag. More downforce for the Porsche, means the car is far easier to drive. Frank Jelinski is really excited to be out there battling with Mercedes and Jaguar and says this year’s world championship so far has been “unbelievable” in his words. Joest and Porsche are going to hold the lead for the remainder of this race here at Dijon. Wollek and Jelinski win at Dijon! Mercedes has the speed, but they are so far incapable of conquering the niggling problems that have been thrown at them so far, and just maybe, this pattern would continue.
Jaguar look more like outgoing rather than defending champions, but with that said, their new car is on the way. No Jaguar driver has been able to crack the top ten in points after two races of the season are already done and dusted. So, here are the top six finishers from Dijon, and we can also look at the driver’s points standings.
- #7 Wollek/Jelinski Porsche 962C Joest Racing
- #62 Schlesser/Mass Sauber C9/88 Mercedes Team Sauber Mercedes
- #61 Baldi/Acheson Sauber C9/88 Mercedes Team Sauber Mercedes
- #37 Dumfries/Lees Toyota 88C Toyota Team Tom’s
- #14 Bell/Needell Porsche 962C GTi Richard Lloyd Racing
- #13 Fabre/Bousquet Cougar C22S Porsche Courage Competition
We also look at the points standings.
- J.L. Schlesser Sauber Mercedes 35 points
- Mauro Baldi Sauber Mercedes 32 points
- Frank Jelinski Porsche 962C 27 points
- Bob Wollek Porsche 962C 27 points
- Kenny Acheson Sauber Mercedes 27 points
- Jochen Mass Sauber Mercedes 15 points
- Johnny Dumfries Toyota 88C 10 points
- Geoff Lees Toyota 88C 10 points
- Kazuyoshi Hoshio Nissan R88C 10 points
- Toshio Suzuki Nissan R88C 10 points
Here are the team’s championship standings.
- Team Sauber Mercedes 35 points
- Joest Racing 32 points
- Toyota Team Tom’s 16 points
- Nissan Motorsport 10 points
- Richard Lloyd Racing 8 points
- TWR Jaguar 8 points
- Courage Competition 6 points
- Brun Motorsport 5 points
- Porsche Almeras 4 points
- France Prototeam 3 points